Taking into account Ruskin's enthusiastic praise of John Brett's The Stonebreaker, it is somewhat surprising that the Val d'Aosta was not recieved similarly. Brett painted the Italian landscape in 1858, having been encouraged to do so by Ruskin himself. He depicts a sweeping landscape in minute detail, capturing the spectacular effects of light on the Italian countryside. Ruskin's criticism of this painting was based largely on the fact that Brett's landscape was lacking in "grandeur." Mike Hickox writes that Brett's paintings should be seen as "symbolic landscapes which attempt to reconcile religion with the findings of science." Since Brett had a reputation as a literalist painter, preoccupied with realism and accuracy, it is perhaps difficult to read symbolic meaning into this particular painting. Everything in the landscape seems to be anonymous; from the sleeping girl in the foreground, to the cloud covered mountains in the distance.


1. Ruskin found fault in this piece for its lack of grandeur. What would the PRB have admired more; truth to nature, or artistic enhancement for romantic/artistic purposes?

2. What exactly makes this landscape Ruskinian?

3. Are there any symbolic cues in the painting which might suggest Brett's interest in religion? Or is this an entirely scientific painting, intended as a meticulous study of nature?

4. How does this painting compare to Brett's other works? Does he employ similar technical or symbolic devices in his depiction of nature?

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Last modified 12 June 2020